Focused Discussions, Race & Society, Regional Studies

Youth in the Middle East Working Group Meeting II

Youth in the Middle East Working Group Meeting II

On November 8–9, 2015, the Center of International and Regional Studies (CIRS), in collaboration with Silatech, hosted the second working group meeting as part of their research project on “Youth in the Middle East.” Eight distinguished scholars were invited to provide critical feedback and remarks on the draft papers, submitted as part of this project, which covered a wide range of issues faced by youth in the Middle East both domestically and in diaspora. This included themes such as employment, education, religion, political views, gender, fatherhood, economic inclusion, and social cohesion.

For decades, most of the scholarship on youth has been concerned with issues such as human capital, problems and challenges faced by youth, and their contribution to the growth of their respective countries. These concerns have spiked, insofar as the Middle East is concerned, after the wave of uprisings that hit the region in 2011. Numerous social scientists have been addressing youth issues in the transition period post Arab Uprisings; yet, there are still areas that need further in-depth analysis and critical examination. In collaboration with Silatech, CIRS launched the “Youth in the Middle East” project in 2014.

The second working group meeting focused on dynamics and challenges faced by youth in the Middle East. Its aim was to identify gaps in the available literature, suggest areas for further scholarly investigations, and recommend policies to decision-making circles.

The first paper, presented by Samar Farah, examines “The State of Education in the MENA Region and its Implications for Youth.” This paper sheds light on the education system in the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa by exploring data presented in international assessments in recent years. Farah focuses on three levels of analysis—school, teacher, and student levels—in order to better understand the challenges facing the education systems, and their implications on youth living in the region.

Michael Robbins’s paper examines “Youth, Religion, and Democracy after the Arab Uprisings.” Robbins compares the experiences of youth in Egypt and Tunisia—two countries that experienced dramatic changes after the Arab uprisings—by investigating public opinion data gathered by the Arab Barometer Research Project. Robbins addresses the process of political learning among youths, specifically in the cases of Egypt and Tunisia.

Jennifer Olmsted’s paper focuses on “Gender Priorities and the Arab Uprisings.” Olmsted examines gender equality in the transition period after the Arab Uprisings, explores the various transitions that both males and females generally experience, and focuses on various health outcomes as well as questions about political voice. In doing so, Olmsted examines a number of social and economic indicators in order to address broader questions about control of assets and access to services, equal access to schooling, trends of marriage and household formation, and gendered patterns emerging in labor markets.

Natasha Ridge, Soohyun Jeon, Soha Shami, and Ann-Christine Niepelt, presented a paper on “Conceptualizing the Role and Impact of Fathers in the Arab World.” Using data from a pilot study on Arab fathers collected in the United Arab Emirates, the authors explore the role and impact of Arab fathers retrospectively, as reported by adult children, on involvement and self-esteem. They also examine gender, socioeconomic status, and nationality in order to study the influence of father involvement on the experiences of males and females in the Arab world. 

Edward Sayre presented paper titled “Youth Economic Inclusion in the Wake of the Arab Uprisings.” This paper examines the influence of the educational levels of individuals and their parents on their ability to secure employment after leaving school. Using both non-parametric (Kaplan Meier) and parametric approaches, this paper assesses the different roles family background plays in the case of women compared to men. It also addresses the issue of inequality of opportunity and its impact on educational achievement and attainment, as well as labor market outcomes. Sayre relies on the 2013 “School to Work Transition Survey” by the International Labor Organization to estimate the determinants of the length of time to find work after leaving school for young Palestinians, specifically those aged between 15 and 29 years old.

Another paper was presented by Samer Kherfi titled “National Employment Policies in the Gulf: Achievements and Challenges.” This paper links the salient features of the GCC labor market to various governmental efforts aimed at nationalizing employment, particularly in the private sector. It also provides an assessment to decades-old policies to boost employment via the direct imposition of minimum quotas for nationals at the firm, industry, and occupation levels. In addition, the paper examines the recent price-based nationalization measures as well as other active labor market interventions.   

The Working Group’s last paper was presented by Sherine El-Taraboulsi and is titled “Navigating British-ness: British-Libyan youth, the Arab unrest and debates on immigration in the United Kingdom”. This paper investigates the discourse on immigration in the United Kingdom, and its implications on the sense of belonging of British-Libyan youth, especially at a time of social and political upheaval in the Arab world. In exploring this issue, El-Taraboulsi unpacks topics related to faith, ethnicity and citizenship of Libyan youth in diaspora.

The second working group meeting was concluded by Mehran Kamrava, the Director of the Center of International and Regional Studies, and Paul Dyre, Senior Consultant at Silatech. As part of a collaborative effort between the two institutions and through facilitating original contributions to the topic by experts, the Working Group moved the study of youth in the contemporary Middle East further along. CIRS and Silatech expect to publish the products of this research initiative in the near future.

It is worth mentioning that this working group is part of the Center of International and Regional Studies Research and Scholarship’s initiatives that aim to fill in existing research gaps, and contribute towards furthering knowledge.  Each of these initiatives involves some of the most prominent scholars of the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf region who address prevailing issues related to the security, economic stability, and political realm of the region.



Participants and Discussants:

  • Zahra Babar, CIRS – Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar
  • Tom Chidiac, Silatech
  • Brian Chung, Al Qasimi Foundation
  • Paul Dyer, Silatech
  • Sherine El Taraboulsi, Overseas Development Institute in London
  • Samar Farah, Columbia University
  • Islam Hassan, CIRS – Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar
  • Soohyun Jeon, Al Qasimi Foundation
  • Nader Kabbani, Silatech
  • Mehran Kamrava, CIRS – Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar
  • Samer Kherfi, American University of Sharjah
  • Suzi Mirgani, CIRS – Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar
  • Edward Sayre, University of Southern Mississippi
  • Elizabeth Wanucha, CIRS – Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar


Article by Islam Hassan, Research Analyst at CIRS